As expected, the movie is a curiosity, which begins with a black-comedy musical bang but gradually settles into a more sombre — but typically off-beat — tone. Coen fans I spoke to after the press screening were pleased, others wished for more of the humorous opening skit starring Tim Blake Nelson as a Roy Rogers-influenced singing, silver-tongued sharpshooter. Additional cast includes Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan and James Franco.
The duo disclosed at the presser that they wrote the movie’s chapters over decades. “The stories were written over a period of 25 years,” explained Ethan. “We put them in a drawer but finally decided to put them all together.” Blake Nelson said he first read a script for his segment in 2002.
Annapurna-produced Scruggs was initially thought to be a TV project. Why an anthology, the brothers were asked. “We like all sorts of movies,” commented Ethan. “There isn’t a market for shorts but we like anthology movies of the ’60s and ’70s like Boccaccio 70….Nobody is doing that kind of thing, anthology movies. We thought it’d be fun to bring it back.”
Scruggs is another prime example of a type of film that might have struggled to get made at its scope and budget if not for a Netflix or Amazon. The filmmakers welcomed Netflix’s backing, “The fact there are companies that are financing and making movies outside the mainstream is very important,” said Joel. “It’s what keeps the art form alive. The more the merrier. Different ways are important. It’s healthier for the business.”
The cinephile brothers confirmed that a theatrical life for the movie was important for them. Many directors will write as much into their contracts with SVOD companies.
“A theatrical release was important to us, but they [Netflix] were happy to accommodate us,” Joel continued. “That might have been their plan from the beginning. It’s getting a theatrical release in the U.S. That’s great. It’s important that people who want to see it on the big screen are able to.”
The movie is set to get a limited awards-qualifying theatrical run from November 16. A streaming date has not yet been set.